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College Connections: Tough decisions, great choices

5/17/2012
Charlene Aguilar shares news of the Class of 2012’s college choices, and some of the admissions trends she gleaned from an invitation-only event she attended with other top schools. She also introduces our newly hired associate director of college counseling. Plus: tips and calendar events for the Class of 2013.

By Charlene Aguilar, director of college counseling
 
“Admissions decisions are made by humans, not robots.” That was one of the salient messages I heard at an invitation-only institute on college trends I recently attended in Boston, along with 19 other directors of college counseling from some of the country’s leading high schools. It hints at some of the fairly big changes this year in the college admissions landscape.

In particular, many in the admissions field are reporting that the deluge of applications has made it more difficult than ever for the only-human college admissions officers to sift through and choose “rationally” among so many qualified applicants. You could call it the “overwhelmed factor.”

I’ll talk more about this in a moment—including how next year’s reduction in the number of applications that students are allowed to send as part of the Common Application may affect the admissions picture—along with other developments on the college scene, from financial strategies to career placement.

I also want to tell you about a savvy new member of our college counseling team, and to give you a heads-up about key dates to mark on your summer and fall calendars.

But first, congratulations are in order for our graduating seniors!

The Class of 2012

Our treasured seniors have remained optimistic and thoughtful in their journey as a class and as individuals, making sound decisions about college and university choices. As you might guess, 100 percent of our seniors at Lakeside will enroll this fall at schools they’ve chosen—71 schools that are as diverse as they are.

Popular destinations include the University of Washington; Ivies, including Cornell, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Stanford; women’s colleges such as Wellesley, Scripps, and Barnard; large urban campuses such as New York University and University of Southern California; technical colleges including California Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; schools with religious affiliation such as Georgetown, Loyola Marymount, and University of Notre Dame; and a wide range of liberal arts colleges that are perennial Lakeside favorites, such as Williams, Carleton, Santa Clara, Claremont McKenna, Whitman, Pomona, Reed, and Oberlin.
 
Overall, Lakeside students applied to 20 percent more schools than they did last year. While we won’t know the final numbers until mid-July, after colleges close out their waiting lists, we know that of the schools to which we regularly send students, students were accepted at about the same rate as the last few years, with variation on both ends. Of note: At UW, acceptances were higher this year than last year’s record numbers.
 
National trends
 
Admissions and applications: Talking to our colleagues at peer schools, Lakeside acceptance numbers seem to be in line with what others are experiencing.
 
At the three-day college institute at Brandeis University that I mentioned above, I compared notes with my peers from such top schools as Harvard-Westlake, Blake, and Fieldston. (Brandeis pays all our expenses for the institute.)

These colleagues echoed what we’d been hearing: Their contacts at a number of colleges told them the national upsurge in college applications flooded them to the extent that they’ve found it problematic to come up with sound and consistent rationales for decision-making. This was the meaning of the quote about admissions decisions being made by humans, not robots.
 
Some of the counselors at the institute shared that they’d had students who were not admitted to schools where they were “sure” they’d be admitted. Counselors mentioned that more students at their schools are applying to very highly selective colleges, but balancing that with applications to their local affordable public university, particularly University of California and University of Michigan. It seems the changes in early admissions policies at Harvard, Princeton, and University of Virginia may have played a part in leading students to think they had a better chance this year at the most selective schools, although that was not true.
 
My colleagues also reported that they are seeing a “tip factor” in favor of admitting students who can pay full fare, and a tip factor that works against students who have financial need. We are seeing a similar pattern emerging for our Lakeside students.

One development for next year that could affect the “applications arms race,” as it’s been called, is that the Common Application is surveying high schools as it considers a change in its policy (since 1998) from allowing a maximum of 20 applications, to 10, or 12. (Nationally, on average students apply to four colleges; the national average for independent schools is six.)

Application hints from admissions officers: At the institute, college officials reminded us of a few things that commonly send a student application into the “no” pile:
  • If a student who applies to a nearby college doesn’t visit.
  • If a student can’t answer the question in a compelling way of why he or she wants a specific campus, versus just regurgitating facts from the school’s website (one reason we encourage Lakeside students to talk with recent alums to identify best fits).
  • If rather than writing a college’s supplemental essay the student writes an essay that fits the essay requirements of a different college (it’s usually clear to admissions officers when you’re writing an essay meant for, say, Stanford, or University of Washington honors, versus their college.)
Tuition trends: We heard how colleges are responding to resistance to tuition increases by becoming more efficient. Expect to see more cooperation between colleges— in everything from combining their health insurance plans to online learning—to help colleges’ bottom lines. (Here’s a link to a related story just published by The New York Times.)
 
Career placement: Colleges are starting to consider how to help students with their longer-range career paths—looking to not just their first job, but their fifth.

Good articles: Three articles from the Wall Street Journal and NPR that were shared, cover some of the current college issues: “Any College Will Do,” on how and why most CEOs went to state universities or less-known private colleges; “Taking Knowledge Out of College,” on the real value of a college education; and “How Colleges Fight for Top Students.”
 
Welcoming our new team member
 
We’re excited to announce the addition of a new full-time staff member to our office: Ari Worthman will join us in the new position of associate director of college counseling. Ari comes to us from Pine Crest School in Florida, where he was the senior associate director of college counseling. Previously he served as the assistant director of admission at Haverford College, where his three years as an admission counselor made him privy to the nuances and idiosyncrasies that impact admission decisions at highly selective universities.
 
Rising seniors who’ve been working with Adam Ross and Amy Kaz already know that they will transfer to Ari and will have an opportunity to meet with him after he arrives on campus August 1. In addition to counseling students on the selection and application process, Ari will work with me to educate our entire community about the admissions process and trends; help train college counselors and teachers about best practices protocol; network with colleges and universities to learn about the latest options for students and to keep the schools abreast of developments at Lakeside; and partner with me to continue to advise the entire college counseling team on financial aid processes and merit scholarship opportunities.
 
Upcoming spring, summer events

Here are some spring and summer college events and opportunities both on and off the Lakeside campus for the Classes of 2013 and 2014. Check links for registration information:
May 23 at Hilton Bellevue; May 24 at Seattle Airport Marriott
Featuring Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, and Stanford.
July 28, 10 a.m. Meydenbauer Center, Bellevue
Each year our students have found this set of colleges to be generous with merit scholarship awards.
 
Application Boot Camp at Lakeside
 
August 28, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (Note: There will be two additional boot camps in fall, October 27 and November 17, with details to come in the fall.)

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